Building your freelance design business by outsourcing

outsource design

Studies show that nearly 70% of readers here at Graphic Design Blender either own their own freelance design business or hope to start freelancing in the near future. Something that many freelancers fail to do, however, is work effectively with others to reduce workload and increase income.
If you’re anything like me, you started your freelance career with hopes of getting paid to do what you love most while maintaining a fairly flexible schedule. Unfortunately, you only have so many hours in the day. In addition you have some clients who simply want something outside your area of expertise.
Sound Familiar?
When this happens, there are a few options you can take. You can simply turn down work you are not qualified for or don’t have time for. You can refer them to friends you might have that do know how to best meet the clients needs. Or lastly, you can network with others and create outsourcing opportunities.

What is outsourcing?

Outsourcing in freelance design is simply the act of transferring the workload from yourself to another person. If you lack time or skill to complete a particular project for a client, for example, you might hire another freelance designer to do the work for you while you manage the client relationships.

When is it a good idea to start outsourcing?

Outsourcing in design can be a controversial topic. Many designers would argue that, if you are not qualified for the job or don’t have time to complete it, you should refer the client to another designer and get over the fact that you just lost a job or a client.

But what if a long-time client of yours comes to you and asks for something that you may not have time to complete or lack the necessary skills. Are you simply going to reject your client, send them on their way, and burn the relationship bridge you have worked so hard to build with them?

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Of course not!

This would be an opportune time to work with other designers or freelancers in order to fulfill the needs of your client. Everyone wins: the other freelancer you work with gets paid, you maintain a client, and the client gets what they need.

How to effectively outsource design work

If you haven’t started a freelance design company yet, this is obviously the first step. You need to create a branding platform, begin to find clients, register your business with all the appropriate government entities, and do all the behind-the-scenes work to get your freelance business off the ground.

After you have everything up and running, you should work hard to find some good clients that will be able to support your freelance business. These clients can include large businesses that need a lot of work done, clients that need material (particularly web material) frequently updated, etc. Before you can think about working with other freelancers, you should have a steady flow of work coming in to your business.

After you have learned the basics of running a successful freelance design business, it’s important to network with other people-especially others who possess skills you lack. This will open doors and present outsourcing opportunities later on.

There are a million places you can make good connections with people. Stay active on twitter (follow me), facebook, stumbleupon, digg, and other sharing and social media sites. Another tactic you can use is to send messages to your followers inviting them to send their information to you through an online form (I use google docs). These forms can help you organize your contacts and information from other freelancers who might be interested in working with you. Make sure they tell you who they are, where you can see their work, how you can get in contact, what they specialize in, etc.

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After you have begun making good connections with other freelancers, begin delegating the surplus work you have to the freelancers who most qualify for the job. If you are unsure who might offer the best experience and best price, you can also send out a bid request. Essentially, you would send out a message to the potential freelancers informing them of the opportunity and ask them to bid on the project. Have them include time schedule and price. This will help you choose a candidate better.

At this moment, your role changes. Whether you like it or not, you have now become a manager. You work as a account manager-facilitating communication between freelancer and client and assuring everything is completed on time and as expected.

While I love design, I have truly come to love working with other freelance professionals who are more skilled than I am. Managing the relationship between client and freelancer can really make you feel like you are running a legitimate freelance business.

Now the good part. The last step is to work out all the payment between client and freelancer. Make sure that all deliverables are given to the client and that the freelancer also gets paid as promised. Some freelance designers feel guilty about collecting money for themselves on a project like this, but if you have done your job properly, you managed the project well-which is what you will be getting paid for. It’s legitimate.

Last, a word of caution

I would offer a word or two of advice for any freelancer who is interested in adding the art of ourtsourcing to their freelance business. First, remember why you are freelancing in the first place. Don’t get so wrapped up in managing and making money that you have no time to design. You love to design-so be sure to keep the best projects for yourself and really enjoy them. Second, remember how you feel when clients hire you and then treat you poorly. When you hire a freelancer, treat them with the utmost respect, trust their opinion, and work well with them to create a professional product.

Will you be outsourcing soon? Add your opinion

Now it’s your turn. What do you think? Is it a good idea to start outsourcing some of the work that you dont have time for or lack the necessary skills to complete? For those of you who have started outsourcing, what tips can you offer the rest of us that might help in our endeavor to take this step in our freelance careers?

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  1. I commented on this article approx 3 years ago when I wanted to expand my freelance animation work. I was confused how it would work and be profitable.

    Well I have been successfully expanding through trusted collaboration for a few years now. It’s hard work but I’ve managed to quadruple my turnover and form a proper company and small team without the expense:

    So thanks for the tips back then! It really can work ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. This is interesting.
    I’d like to ask few points about it, though.
    First, do you really have to register your business even if you’re just a 2 member or 3 member team?
    Second, how would you let clients know that you can outsource?
    Third, do you have to sign up to a freelance website to gather clients or there’s a better way?
    In general, I wanted to know the best way to outsource small team only.

  3. Hi Preston….thank you, that was really helpful. Could you please guide me? Do you know about promotional product designing outsourcing? I am a commercial artist and I am interested in branding for promotional products.

  4. Accidentally found this post on Google.
    I’m running a graphic designing firm that look for co-operation with other agency (our price is extremely competitive). And that’s also my recommendation for those who want to manage their own outsourced designers. It’ll take more time and effort, and sometime outsourced designer never guarantee their quality of work. Instead, looking for an outsource designing firm and you can receive a guarantee from them.

  5. I love your articles and website! I have read everything I think. I have one question in regards to your outsourcing practices – what type of contract do you believe is important between you and the designer you are outsourcing the work too? Would love your feedback.

    Tim Kavermann

    1. Hello Tim,

      I am working in IT industry from last 9 years. I am an UI developer and WordPress programmer. This is a very useful blog. I love these articles.

      The most important contract I believe between a job provider and freelancer is both have to stick on their commitment what they committed before starting of the project and another most important point for freelancer is that they need to understand his client’s thought and should deliver the work accordingly.

      If any one between these two are not followed the work can’t be perfect.


  6. This is a great article! I just recently started my own graphic and web design business and while I know I can do web design as well as graphics (mainly business cards, flyers, etc…), I am not very well versed, if you will, if the area of creating logos. I want to learn but at this moment I can’t wait on that. If I do, I’d lose customers.

  7. Interesting advice right there.
    I think the most important point here is to understand that it always help to have some or good amount of experience under your belt for starting freelancing company or your business. That gives you much needed exposure which you often need. Great article Preston, thanks for sharing.

  8. Thank you for such a nice post.

    I work for Scoleo Technologies Pvt Ltd. It is based in New Delhi, India. We provide web design/development, mobile app development, offshore software development and digital marketing services.

    You can visit our website to know more and for any further inquiry you can contact us at [email protected] or you can directly mail me at [email protected]

  9. Fantastic article.. Very informative – We have so many web design companies based in US/Canada/UK that outsource us technical part so they can focus on creative stuff.. One of the companies has been able to grow 2fold in a year just because now they are now least worried about techincal mishaps ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Hi, great article, I wondered if I could ask a couple questions I’m confused about how others get this to work.

    I’m a freelance 3D Artist / Animator / Motion designer, and lately I’m having to turn work down or pass onto to one other freelancer I trust due to being booked up myself, and lose out on the project

    I’m interested in being able to outsource and project manage it myself, but I’m confused how others get it to work financially because I charge a pretty standard day rate, so to do this and make it worthwhile I would have to ….

    A) find or ask the freelancer to charge less than I do so I can make a small fee on it.. or
    B) charge the client extra for a job I’m not actually doing myself

    My second dilemma, is clients come to me on the strength and reputation of my work, now if I said I could do that but it wont be me personally that again I’m sure would lose the job?

    Any experience or advice how I can combat these issues greatly appreciated, many thanks

    1. I have an answer for you on your second dilemma. When you outsource work, you basically become a Creative Director. Having worked as a Team Lead in a media department…although the work wasn’t done by me personally, as the team lead, I offered my suggestions to the person actually doing the work, therefore, my personal touch was being added to it in some way…I’m just not clicking the mouse.

  11. I need to know what do i do if i have to work with a company who want to outsource their design projects to ME?

    What kind of an agreement do i sign before i commit toi them
    I am a freelance graphic designer with my own company

  12. I need to know what do i do if i have to work with a company who want to outsource their design projects to ME?

    What kind of an agreement do i sign before i commit toi them
    I am a freelance graphic designer with my own company

    Please advice!! ๐Ÿ™

  13. outsourcing is of course very cost effective that is why most companies prefer to outsource-*`

  14. outsourcing is really necessary specially if you want to cut the cost of production.;,;

  15. There is a rapid growth of Outsorcing these days as manufactures try to cut cost and maximize profit.*-:

  16. hello!
    I’m in Viet Nam, a graphic design and a digital artist. I need some freelance project jobs. Please let me try some. I’m working for a design company for 1 years and more, I have some experiences in these jobs.
    Thank you.

  17. very useful article. Been freelancing about a year and before that i ran outsourcing for a large corporate. My biggest tips would be to be clear and decisive about your requirements and to ensure that you track what is being done

  18. Great post. I have been freelancing for over 5 years now, approaching 6. I often find it hard to let go of the control, and to outsource a project, however, I can only do so much as a designer with out working 60 hours a week. The only way for me to grow, or to earn more income would be to either increase my rates, or to outsource.

  19. I totally disagree with Phase 5. Pretty soon your client is going to be asking “Why are we paying you?”. Having been on both sides of the fence with this one, my suggestion, if you hire a subcontractor just shut up about it unless it’s something highly specialized.

    1. @rickdelux,
      Interesting thought. Thanks for bringing your experience to the table on this one.

      I would disagree by saying that if you don’t tell your client that you are outsourcing work, when they find out, they might not be too pleased about the idea. Especially if they hired you as an INDEPENDENT contractor. If they signed a contract that created two parties (you and them) and then you included a third party without their knowledge or approval, it’s possible you could be in breech of contract and legally liable for problems/damages.


      1. @Preston D Lee, I have signed contracts that stipulate such language and have avoided subcontracting that work for legal reasons.

        My best client uses me as a subcontractor. 90% of the time their client has know idea that I’m doing the design end of the work. This is to protect my client (the original contractor). The other 10% of the time I’m brought into the loop early on because of a specific knowledge or experience. After six years of working together we have a good level of trust and I’m comfortable with the situation.

        Recently, I wanted to get a “fresh” design perspective so I hired a local gent to create some designs for a client. In this case everything went through me since I was hired specifically for my “style” of design. The client and my guy were never in contact which was definitely for the best.

        Perhaps in revision to my original comments I would say “Trust your instincts on establishing direct communication between the client and the freelancer.” I would only put them in contact with each other if it is an absolute necessity.

  20. Outsourcing can be tricky, letting go of control can be hard, I had my fingers burnt a few times… my advice… keep it local so you can actually meet in person when required and once you find a good person or company stick with them!

    1. @Erik, Did you even read this article? There is nothing offensive in this article… The content is quality… Now if you disagree with something perhaps you could mention specifics so that we might all learn from your point of view. Beginning to outsource your work to other freelancers is how you can really grow your business while also making connections. Try being constructive next time or just don’t reply at all.

    2. @Erik, I’m in agreement with Aaron. I did not find one bit of this article offensive. Before you state you will never read this blog again, explain why you will never read this blog again. It doesn’t help your case if you’re going to leave it with that.

    3. @Erik, Sorry you didn’t have a good experience here at Millo. I would love to know what made you so determined to leave and never return. Could you let me know what was so wrong with this article. I’m totally open to constructive criticism. Thanks -PDL

    4. @Erik – At the risk of sounding cynical, never is a very long time, especially on the web. One could almost bet that, at some stage, you would return here if only to read and reply to these comments that you’re now getting.

      I’ll admit to clicking through on your profile link, but only to find out if/why you’d make such comments here (and on an article that has barely anything that could be taken as being offensive or detrimental to the community).

      If you’d care to explain your reasons why you’ll “never” read this blog again, you’ll save yourself, Millo and Millo’s readers a whole lot of stress trying to figure out exactly what you meant, and whether you were being hostile or not in saying it.

    5. @Erik
      I’m going to have to mute my personal sense of professionalism for just a moment and say that if you’re looking for attention, go look elsewhere.

      That was the most cowardly statement I’ve encountered… So specify what your problem is or do us all a favor and run along.

      *Sorry to get a bit gritty everyone, but I cannot stand situations like this. Great article. Great site. Enough said.

  21. I really do not outsource any of my works. I feel kinda guilty about that.
    I get a lot of outsourced projects though! ๐Ÿ˜›

  22. I have also started with freelancing, currently i have some domestic projects, but i am looking forward for some challenging projects.
    Sorry, but there is a typo error in second last paragraph titled “Last, a word of caution”. It should be “Outsourcing” in place of “ourtsourcing”.

  23. I am working as a freelancer for the last 5 years and have done 350 plus small and medium jobs whether flash, html plus flash etc. Almost worked from every part of the world. They guys who give me work always have praises and are rest assured that while they take rest I work for them and by the time I sleep they can show the work to their clients. It has benefited a lot to guys like me who sit in comfort of their homes and earn dollars which I cannot even think to step outside my country and find work in overseas. So it works both ways. Good for the outsourcer and best for freelancers like me. I have inspired some of my clients too look out for work in their respective areas in their coutntries and now they are the one who are sending my regular jobs ๐Ÿ™‚

  24. Outsourcing can let you add to your workload indefinitely without killing yourself. You could theoretically be paid for 100 hours of work per week while only working 10, simply by outsourcing. Sure, your management time is limited, but if your business grows enough you can even outsource management.

    Outsourcing is a great way to free yourself from being tied down to an 8 or 12-hour workday.

  25. I know about outsourcing, i.e. sub-contracting, from the entertainment industry. Networking plays a big part because of time constraints and the quality of work you expect to get from this contractor. If someone you know has had experience with this person/firm before, chances are they’ll be great. It’s not asking for good references and examples that create problems.

    Personally, I don’t tend to outsource because I can program and design. I do collaborate sometimes, especially with short timeframes, but those are usually projects where I’m not the only one on the team.

  26. I run my own freelance business as well as working full time for Me, Myself & I (by boss knows!!) I outsource all the time, mostly to web developers due to the fact that I just dont have the expertise or knowledge to create a custom website. I ensure that the outsourced employee charges me less than I charge my client this allows for the cost of art direction and admin.

  27. Thanks for this! I’ve just begun this process myself and am looking for complimentary partnerships, particularly with programmers since I’m more of a designer, but it’s not been easy getting used to the idea of handing your work off to someone else. I haven’t yet been able to do it. I don’t worry so much about talent, there are a lot of talented folks out there, but can the person meet a deadline? Are they good communicators? Will they flake out and disappear on you?

    1. @Krista, Well Krista you have to try at least once to be satisifed. I personally have done around 350 jobs all from overseas and work through a freelancing site. The reviews given by my clients say it all. I am not saying give work to me but just to allay your fears that there are all kind of people in this world. So try one project throgh any freelancing site of your choice ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Hello Jay,

        I am looking at outsourcing some work (particularly logos) to a freelancer. Is the source of the work kept confidential? In other words, when the files are sent to the actual client, will there be any trace of who created it? Also, do you allow the designer who hires you to display your work on their websites (portfolio)? Sorry for all the questions. I want to make sure I approach this correctly before opting to go this route.

        Thank You!

        1. I am working in outsourcing from last 9 years. I can provide my profiles. As per your queries, 1st thing is, YES everything will be confidential. 2nd issue, client won’t trace who created the logos. 3rd point, yes I allow to display my work.
          Hope now you are clear.

  28. Remember that outsourcing can be a two way street. The freelancer you bring in to cover extra work or fill in the gaps in your skill set can turn around and use you for their overload or to help them out. So choose your partners wisely and you will see your own business grow in volume and expanded services.

  29. I’d agree that in an ideal world, it’s best to hold onto clients and outsource the work, but what about the cost? If I outsource design, I need to pay another freelancer, but the project is going to take up my time too. There’s the time spent to manage freelancer, the time spent reviewing their work, and the time spent working with the client on the project. So the dilemma becomes finding a freelancer who charges less than I do, but does the same quality work that I do, because I’m going to have to mark-up the costs in order to make money on the project. I’m all for outsourcing little bits of a project, like hiring a copywriter. But if the entire project is one I can’t complete, whether it be due to time or skills, I think passing on it may be the best option. Unless the client is willing to pay the inflated cost!

    1. I guess it all depends on how much you charge your clients. But if you outsource to the philippines then it should be low cost for good work. As long as you do your research and also state in your SOW that you may use help you could make some money still and juat manage the project. The client doesn’t caee who did the work as long as the job is done the way they want it.

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